How can I already have spent two blog entries describing Isabella when I haven’t much touched upon our real adventures there? I think Roger and Lisa would agree that it was our favorite place in the Galapagos with San Cristobal coming in a second, falling prey to Isabella’s more dramatic geological attractions and a town that led a quieter life more akin to our tastes.
After collecting recommendations from other cruisers and our local agent, we decided upon two guided tours that intrigued us. A third was available, but that involved paying something like $50 per person to take our dinghy in to the dock, get on someone else’s panga, and go about 300 yards to a snorkeling spot that we could at least skirt the edges of without the expense.
Our first excursion was a boat trip to Los Tunneles. We visited a remote rock populated by rare Nazcal boobies and paused our trip to snorkel in a lagoon to see sharks basking in caves, sea turtles grazing on algae, and a seahorse hiding from we tourists among the muck-laden mangrove roots. As interesting as those stops were, the highlight was the bizarre formations of Los Tunneles.
As the name implies and the guides describe, Los Tunneles is a site supposedly formed by collapsed lava tubes that ran from Sierra Negra or one of her volcanic ancestors millennia ago. I think of lava tubes as freeways of molten rock that run pretty much straight down hill, leaving a main, if not a single tunnel to the sea when the lava runs out. Los Tunneles is more spread out than that and I expect it is more a field of frozen lava that dispersed over a relatively flat surface and collapsed into channels and arches as the underlying strata were eroded away by the sea.
Regardless of its geological origins, Los Tunneles is captivating in its rugged beauty. Jagged grey and brown lava formations stippled with cacti and spindly, but hardy trees form an irregular crust laced with aqua blue channels of sea water. Sea turtles and sharks cruise these marine avenues while blue footed boobies squawk and stamp out their mating dances among the rocks.
Our boat captain had to time the waves as we literally surfed from the ocean into this landscape, then he wove his way in past boobies and blue herons and red Sally Lightfoot crabs. It took fifteen minutes or so for him to come to a makeshift mooring against a lava wall and we all climbed out to wander and gape. We watched as one male, already confident in his chosen mate, clacked his beak and spread his wings to fend off an encroaching suitor. Elsewhere other boobies sat calmly undisturbed on their rocky perches as we imposed upon them for photo ops. Our time there was too short, but we got in various family group photos and took myriads of our own shots.
Another day we took a hiking tour up Sierra Negra, the biggest of five not-so-extinct volcanos that spreads their skirts to form the island of Isabella. Sierra Negra’s six mile wide caldera is the second largest in the world. Only Yellowstone National Park is larger. Our tour included an SUV ride up to the volcano’s visitor center, but we walked up a gently sloping path to the edge of the crater for vast scenic views over the broken lava field. From there we hiked another couple of miles to the lunar landscape formed by the volcano’s relatively recent 1969 eruption. It’s most recent activity was in only 2005. The landscape was as formidable and forbidding as I imagine the scales and spikes on a dragon’s back would be, but the colors, …reds and golds and yellows and browns, were mixed in an unbelievable palette of both destruction and rebirth. Cacti sprung up from seemingly dead earth and ferns were teeming in the damp, cool shadows of quiet remains of fumaroles that were scattered about. The endpoint of our trail offered expansive views over the rugged landscape of the island.
Besides taking a couple of opportunities to snorkel a nearby lagoon, our final exploration was to take the Bird Walk just outside of the sleepy town. Lisa and I armed ourselves with camera gear and wandered out along the elevated boardwalk that ventured over a tidal lagoon populated with several endemic avian species. Most prominent were the pink flamingoes.
I haven’t spent a whole lot of effort in describing what we saw on Isabella. The photos I’ve included should do a better job of that. I hope you enjoyed them.